Matthew 3

1 This would have been about 28 years later.
2 Repent means to stop doing things that displease God. It is a complete turnaround. People are to turn from sin and towards God. The phrase, "Kingdom of Heaven," was a hint that the Messiah was about to appear and establish His eternal and righteous Kingdom. The other Gospels use the phrase "Kingdom of God." It is thought that Matthew was writing for a primarily Jewish audience, who refrained from speaking God's name out of reverence for Him.
3 Isaiah had prophesied about John the Baptist hundreds of years before he was born (Isa 40:3). The picture is one of a herald who precedes the king. His purpose was to notify the people of the king's immanent arrival. The citizens were expected to clear the road of obstacles so that his arrival would be unimpeded.

This verse ties in with the previous one as a parable. John the Baptist was a herald for Jesus. John announced Jesus' arrival and urged the people to prepare to meet their Messiah. They were to change their worldview by focusing on God and His desires. They were also to get rid of the obstacles like pride and selfishness that would hinder their acceptance of the Messiah.

4 John lived a hard life and did not have extravagant clothing. In fact, the description of his clothing was very much like that of Elijah (2 Ki 1:8). As Jesus would later explain, John was the "Elijah" that would precede the Messiah, as prophesied in Scripture (Mat 11:7-14). John lived of the land and had a very simple diet. Locusts were one of the insects that Israelites were allowed to eat (Lev 11:21-22).
5 John was both a spectacle and a word of hope for the oppressed Israelites. It was obvious to most that John was a prophet from God (Mat 21:26). It had been hundreds of years since there was a prophet in the land, and the Israelites were hoping that God would visit them soon and free them from Roman rule as He had freed their ancestors from other pagan rulers in the past.
6 Those that took his words to heart were immersed in water. This was a symbol of dying to their old ways. Baptism was also used to show that the one being baptized agreed with the message being preached.

The word "baptize" means to immerse in water. There is no Biblical basis, physically or symbolically, for those who insist that sprinkling or pouring water on the head is equivalent to baptism by immersion.

7 This is quite a challenge. The Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious people. However, they did not come to repent of their sins. They felt that if they memorized Scripture performed the rituals God commanded that He would favor them.

John calls them vipers, possibly to indicate that their spiritual lives were influenced more by Satan than by God. Their ritual observance of the Law without devotion to God or repentance from sin was poisonous to the world.

8 Only when people turn from sin and are filled with the Holy Spirit can the produce the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22-24). The fact that there was no change in their thoughts and behavior was evidence that they had not repented. The practice of religious rituals without a relationship with God is hypocrisy.
9 Some felt that they were favored simply because they were descendants of Abraham. However, a child's righteousness depends on his own relationship with God, that that of his parents'. Another consideration is that God's promises to Abraham of protection and blessing hinged on the obedience and faith of the Israelites.

God could turn stones into people who would obey Him. How much easier it would prove to be for non-Jewish people (Gentiles) to turn to God and inherit Abraham's blessing. Jesus' death on the cross made it possible for Gentiles to have a faith relationship with God, which grants them an inheritance in heaven along with the faithful people of Israel.

10 The time of judgement is now! They were about to see the Messiah themselves, and their reaction to Him would seal their fate.

This was a vivid illustration to those familiar with how orchards are tended. If a tree produced little or bad fruit it would be chopped down and replaced. God's ax of judgement was ready to fell the tree of Israel, so they did well to change their ways before they were destroyed. Many Jews came to believe in Jesus, but the nation as a whole remained unfaithful. In 70 AD Israel was destroyed and it did not become a land-owning nation again until the 1950s.

11 The people thought John was a great man of God, but John admits that he pales in comparison to the One who is about to be made known to them. The lowliest slaves were assigned the unpleasant task of taking care of dirty sandals. However, Even the "great" John would not be worthy of this job for the Messiah.

John's baptism was with common, harmless water, but the Messiah would baptize people with the Holy Spirit. The Messiah's baptism would be like fire -- both powerful and purifying to the human spirit.

12 Winnowing was a process of throwing grain into the air. The useless chaff would blow away while the grain would fall to the ground to be gathered for storage. God would make the effort to gather the chaff and burn it with fire - one that would last forever.
13 John prophesied, and it came to pass.
14 John recognized Jesus as the Messiah and knew that Jesus was mightier than he was. Now the Messiah, whose sandals he was not fit to carry, came to him to be baptized. John knew that in the overall scheme he needed to be baptized by Jesus. He did not immediately understand why it was important that Jesus be baptized by him.
15 Jesus did not need to be baptized for repentance, but he was baptized in agreement with what John had been preaching. Jesus always identified Himself closely with fulfilling the Scriptures. Jesus was not baptized by John to place Himself under John's authority. Rather, Jesus was baptized into the message that God had given John. Thus, Jesus was placing Himself under the authority of God's prophecies through John's baptism.
16 Although John recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the other two Persons of the Trinity confirm that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah (the "Anointed One" who would rule the Kingdom of Heaven).

This is only one of two times the Holy Spirit makes a physical appearance: here as a dove, later as flames of fire (Acts 2:3-4).

17 The Father is invisible, but makes His presence known here by producing an audible voice. Through sight and sound, God confirmed that Jesus was part of the Godhead and had the authority of God.

The Father indicates that He was pleased with Jesus. Jesus had not yet begun His ministry, but He lived a life in perfect obedience to the Father. This is what pleased God. We do not need to think that we need a significant ministry to please God. He asks us first that we love and obey Him. Those who love and obey Him are most likely to be used by Him to minister to the lost, but we should not be discouraged if that ministry is small or a long time in coming.